All posts by Michael Schwarz

Q&A: Evil Organization Caught Being Evil – News at 11

Commonly, when a character escapes Evil Organization™, they stay low and try to avoid getting their face in the news. Could doing the opposite and making themselves as obvious and well-known as possible work instead because it would be more obvious if someone tried to kill them (especially if they dropped hints that someone might be after them)?

Well, if you’ve trademarked your company, “Evil Organization,” then you’re probably not too worried about the headlines. You may also have some branding issues that Marketing will want to discuss with you, but, that’s a different issue.

“Evil Organization caught eating kittens!”

“Yeah, well, no surprise there.”

So, in concept, there’s a couple factors to consider with your approach. Because, in the right circumstances, it could work as a deterrent.

Does the organization care about its public image? Normally, you’d think the answer is yes. Especially if you’re talking about a business. But, when you’re talking about a pseudo-government agency, or something like a criminal enterprise, or conspiracy, they might not.

The simplest way to look at it is, a company that runs a chain of department stores will care far more about how they’re perceived publicly, than a supervillian hiding in his volcano lair.

If they don’t care about their public image, then publicly waxing your protagonists isn’t a problem.

In fact, depending on their reputation, it may be a boon. If your characters are on the run from a crime family, a very public execution would actually work in their favor.

The old cliche about, “all publicity is good publicity,” doesn’t quite hold true. But, if you’re attempting to cultivate a reputation as someone who should not be messed with, a public, and messy, execution or two can do wonders for keeping people in line.

Will it face any significant backlash for its behavior? If you’re talking about an individual, sure. Even if the evil conspiracy is just a room full of businessmen and their hired gun, then they could be rounded up, arrested, put on trial. There could be consequences if they’re caught. But, if we’re talking about something like a government agency or a drug cartel, that starts to go off the rails.

With criminal organizations, then your character would become another statistic. One of many dead due to violence. A tragedy that, as I mentioned earlier, would actually benefit them. Serving as a warning to everyone else to stay in line and do what they say. Now, there are diminishing returns for this kind of an approach, but that’s something your characters could only enjoy posthumously.

If the conspiracy your characters are running from have hooks in the law enforcement community, it may not be possible for your characters to hide in plain sight. Even if it’s a business or corporation, they could still find themselves subject to arrest, if the company started providing evidence of criminal acts (real or otherwise) committed by your characters.

Can it still get access to your characters without exposing itself? This should be somewhat obvious, but the organization might not need to publicly out itself to kill your characters. Depending on who they are, it might not even be possible to connect the killer to the people pulling the strings.

If the evil organization has the capacity to execute a covert assassination, your characters gained nothing by taking this approach.

Really, this question supersedes the others. If the answer is “yes,” your characters are screwed.

In fact, by taking this approach, your characters may have put themselves in a worse position. It’s entirely possible the organization may not have the resources to find them, if they’d fled to the dark side of the moon, and kept out of sight. But, they’ve publicly told their foes where to find them.

There are potential applications for this. If your characters want to drag their foes out into the opening, sticking a big, “here I am, come get me,” sign on social media will bring them in. But, that’s the opposite of going into hiding, to avoid their foes, and more something to do when you want to definitively eliminate your foes.

If your characters want to lure the organization into a compromising situation, this may be useful. It’s one thing if a covert hit squad can actually find and kill your characters. But, it’s another if they can be coaxed into assaulting a high society cocktail party when your characters aren’t even there.

There’s also a few big problems with this approach.

Everyone wants to be famous. I realize this isn’t strictly true. There are plenty of people out there who are quite happy to pass unnoticed. However, there are many people who do want to be famous. Actually getting to that point is hard, time consuming, work. It’s a skill set.

Cultivating a fan base, keeping people interested, building up your brand. This all takes time, and effort. It’s not something you can just, flip a switch, and achieve (unless you are improbably lucky).

This means there’s a long time frame between your character announcing their existence, and the point that they’d actually enjoy any protection from their fame. It also means there’s no guarantee they’d ever reach a level of fame that actually offered any protections.

Being famous is inherently dangerous. Actual celebrity assassinations are fairly rare, though they do happen. That said, fame is a peculiar creature, which has an unfortunate effect on many. People, complete strangers, sometimes not entirely stable strangers, want to get close, participate, feel like they’re part of it.

Spend any considerable time following entertainment news, and you’ll see a long procession of weirdos breaking into peoples houses, attacking others. It is a real phenomena. In an attempt to find safety, your characters are actually putting themselves in more danger.

You can’t control what people care about. Honestly, this is something to keep in mind as a writer, but it applies to your characters as well. Sure, your characters can make themselves publicly available, suggest that they know things, draw attention onto themselves, and hope that will provide protection, but it might not.

This is also one of those things where people might not care about your character at all until after they’re dead. Which is a partial victory, I guess, but doesn’t do them much good.

It’s also entirely likely your character simply wouldn’t manage to reach enough people to draw them in, especially if they’re regularly making comments that sound like they’re six sunflower seeds off becoming a full blown conspiracy theorist.

Like I said earlier, there are applications to this approach. Your characters could make use of it as part of a larger plan. Particularly if their goal is to expose the evil organization somehow by provoking them. But, it’s still incredibly dangerous, and wouldn’t provide much, if any, protection.

-Starke

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Q&A: Bastard Swords and Zweihanders

bastard swords and zweihanders are so massive, they have to be carried either at the side of a giant or extremely tall character, of on a person’s back. as well, how well do they work? is it a matter of fighting style, terrain, opponents, all the above? they look so cool and awesome, but are also just so big

So, it’s probably worth saying, up front, the bastard sword is, basically, a modern term. Not, a modern invention per say. The term itself is also not new. But, the way it’s applied today is less than 200 years old.

The bastard sword is just a different name for a longsword. Usually the definition would be, “a longsword with a two handed grip,” but, really, that is most longswords.

So, you’re talking about a sword with a 28″-36″ blade, and a grip you can hold in both hands, or use one handed. Historically, these would have just been called “swords.” Nothing particularly special about them.

As much as I like “zweihander” as a term, it’s probably worth remembering that this is, just, German for “two handed.” They’re long blades, usually around 48″ inches, though they do come longer. They also have a longer grip, to give the user more leverage. These are going to be heavier than a normal sword, but it’ll still be less than your average, domestic house cat.

In general, the etymology of most European two handed swords boils down to, “hey, it’s a big sword.” Even the Claymore is basically just, “hey, it’s a big sword,” in Gaelic. The zweihander is just, “hey, you’re going to need more than one hand to use this,” in German. (Incidentally, there are alternate German names for large swords including bihander. I’ve never come across the German Grossschwert, but it wouldn’t surprise me if that’s an acceptable term as well.)

Beyond that, a zweihander is still a sword, you use it like a sword. This means the normal strike patterns for a blade still work. It’s been scaled up, but not to the point that it’s become unmanageable. The point is to make a sword that can win a game of bleed tag, not turn it into a roving slab you can’t get moving before your opponent has run you through.

Because of the longer grip, two-handed swords do allow for some more fluid, circular strike patterns. From what I know, these were mostly practiced by Spanish and Portuguese schools. If I understand correctly, schools in that region viewed greatswords as a tool for dealing with multiple attackers. I’m not entirely sure if this was simply a drill technique, to get the swordsman used to the idea of moving between opponents, or if they really intended these guys to take on multiple opponents simultaneously. The former seems far more likely, and is a useful skill to cultivate for any combatant.

The major difference between a longsword and a zweihander is reach. A zweihander will let you strike at foes who are not close enough to attack with their blades, while still giving you a way to keep them at range, and punishing them for attempting to close. This is especially true of thrusts with a zweihander, which can vastly exceed what you’d see from a “normal,” longsword.

In most cases two handed swords could be used one handed, but because of the extra weight it was exhausting and the user would sacrifice some fine control over the blade.

You are right about the blade length. At least with the Zweihander. These were long blades, and if you were traveling, you’d probably want to wrap it, and carry across your back or along side your pack. If you were traveling with a horse, you would probably leave that on your horse. If you were expecting trouble, you’d need to get it ready before things got out of hand, because you wouldn’t get the opportunity in the moment. Also, unlike large axes, polearms, or staves, you couldn’t really use on as a walking aid when not in use. And, yes, just because you can’t draw a sword from your back doesn’t mean you can’t keep one there for later.

-Starke

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Tag Clouds and A New Plan

Like a lot of blogs on Tumblr we used Post-Theory for our tag cloud. At the time, it was a pretty nice option, and allowed you to embed a tag cloud onto your blog.

Post-Theory relied on an external server. So, while they had a .tumblr blog, the actual heavy lifting was being done off site on their server.

Unfortunately, back in late June, Post-Theory’s external server went down, and started returning a 503 error. A 503 can indicate that the server is simply down for maintenance, or that it’s been temporarily knocked offline due to extreme load. The issue may be as simple as their server exceeded its bandwidth.

Regardless, their tag cloud is down, and has been for over two months. At the time, I said I’d give them a week to sort it out, and then start looking for alternate solutions. That took a little longer than I intended.

There are a couple other setups that allowed you to host a tag cloud locally, but unfortunately, all of those either ran up against inherent limitations in the Tumblr API (which I’m still not sure how Post-Theory got around), or simply didn’t work.

Eventually, the solution I managed to come to was to backport everything over to a wordpress blog, and use their tools to generate a tag cloud.

This is why last night’s posts had that, “originally posted,” stinger. It actually links back to a unique .com address with a functional (if somewhat limited tag cloud), and not the tumblr blog.

We also have an automated system set up so that when a post goes live on HowtoFightWrite.com, it also posts to HowtoFightWrite.tumblr.com. (It was also automatically posting older posts that I was editing on the site.)

So, what does this mean? We’re still going to be operating on Tumblr. That’s not changing. I’m also going to be going through old posts and cleaning up the tags we used, so that the tag cloud is more useful than it has been. This is something I’ve had on my to-do list for a long time, but the tumblr interface makes messing with old posts, even to clean up their tags, a very daunting task.

Any answers or articles we post will still go up on Tumblr. Though, the reblogs will probably stay there.

Worst case, the site is paid for through the spring of 2019, so even if we’re killed by the beer truck, that resource will still be there.

Right now, there’s a little over 1,700 posts I need to pick through, clean up, and tweak the tags around. There’s also roughly 2,600 tags, of those only about 300 are actually used. So, that list is going to be trimmed down a bit as well.

Our goal is to have a coherent, useful, resource available to people when we’re done.

-Starke

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Q&A: M14 Wounds

What do you think he damage from an M14 if a person was hit in the shoulder from the front would look like? I’m trying to make the damage from the hit as realistic as I can! [if distance is needed, it is about 4 to 5 rooftops away. tight old city blocks rather than larger apart] Thanks for the advice!

No offense, I don’t particularly want to look this one up, but wound channel charts are available for most common rounds. It’s a little harder to find ballistic data for unusual rounds, like 5.7mm, but the M14 is chambered in 7.62mm NATO. It’s a very common round.

Off the top of my head, you’re looking at a fairly small entry wound. The exit wound will depend on if the bullet hit bone on the way through or not. If it did, it it will shatter the bone, and take that with it, leaving a sizable hole on the way out. (I’m going to spitball that at around 2″-3″), if it goes through clean, which is kinda unlikely, but not impossible, you’re looking at an exit wound not much larger than the bullet.

It’s also possible, on a bone impact, for the bullet to shatter resulting in multiple exit wounds.

Generally speaking, when you have deeper penetration of meat with a 7.62, it will start to expand. Someplace after about 10-15cm of penetration, it will actually produce a much larger tissue displacement. This isn’t really an issue if you’re pumping rounds into a person, but if it’s something larger, or if the bullets are hitting center mass, it can be a factor.

-Starke

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Q&A: Sword Cane Followup

kuraitenshi2012:

A way to compensate for a smaller blade is having it made with “rare metal” or with “magic” whichever may fit your story better.

I own my own cane sword as well, the blade itself was dull from before I bought it, but it’s more like a dagger.

As far as cane design, if you taper it down to a strong point it’ll be less suspicious. If you have the handle lock a pressure turn you can make it look more like a 2×4 that’s been quickly sanded and turned into a cane, it won’t be too suspicious but not completely hidden.

If we’re stepping outside the range of what’s possible, and into straight up fantasy weapons, I still adore Bloodborne’s Threaded Cane. It’s not technically a sword, since it goes from being a cane to a serrated whip, but still.

-Starke

Q&A: Sword Cane

How practical is a hidden sword inside a walking stick/cane? How wide could a person go before the cane became suspiscious as to be concealing something? And would such a weapon be strong enough in serious skirmishes? Or should a user stick to simply using the cane, and perhaps having a hidden blade in the end?

Amusingly, I used to own a sword cane. I threw it out during the last move, otherwise I could post pictures.

The sword canes I’ve seen have been screw on arrangements. Externally, they look like a normal cane with a metal band just below the grip (which isn’t unusual for normal canes either).

They use very narrow blades to maintain the silhouette of a normal cane. This is a necessary component of the design, by the way. The entire point is to have a hidden blade, which falls apart when you’re carrying around something that looks more like a scabbard than a cane. You’re talking about a blade that’s going to be, at most, around 1/2″ across, and usually around 24″ to 25″ long.

The primary purpose of these things was as a self defense tool. It’s not a weapon intended for heavy combat, just to deal with one guy armed with a knife.

To some extent, overall practicality depends on the individual weapon, not sword canes as a whole. For example, the one I owned featured a very loose blade, which could be rattled by shaking the grip slightly. Rattling it may serve the intended purpose of scaring off a potential mugger, but I wouldn’t have wanted to take the thing into a fight.

-Starke

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Q&A: Character Motivations

Do you have any advice on subtly guiding readers to villainize a character so that they dismiss the character’s legitimate concerns over another person’s trustworthiness? I am hoping the perceived personalities will help, but I don’t want to rely on them alone.

Well, you hit on the answer: Make the concerns legitimate. Not just the concerns you want to discredit, but also the reasons your other characters have to discount their observations.

When you’re writing it can be very easy to get tunnel vision and view the world through the lens of your protagonist. Your audience will gleefully follow that cue in turn. It’s part of why there are a lot of novels with the protagonist acting in egregious ways, but fans will (and do) disregard it, because the protagonist thinks that behavior’s fine.

This is how characters like Harry Potter function. The character operates from a limited perspective of the world, makes snap judgments based on their perspective, and as a result, devalues legitimate advice and insights from people who know what they’re talking about. I’ll stress, there’s nothing wrong with a character having this kind of an approach, so long as the author understands that this is a flaw.

There is nothing wrong with having a character say, “yeah, but that’s just Steve, and we all know what an idiot he is.” So long as you remember, as the author, that Steve may have a point, and licking that light socket was probably not a great idea.

So, let’s step back for a second and start over: As the author, you control the game board. That’s your job. You set up the characters, the arena they operate in, and direct them. You know that the sky is going to fall in six minutes, and that poking the toad over there is a spectacularly bad, idea. But, your characters don’t.

In a story told from the position of one character, you’re presenting the narrative from a limited perspective. You need to understand the entire situation, but your character doesn’t, and shouldn’t. They see and react to the information they have access to.

Now, the hard part, staying within this weird little metaphor, every other character in your story is another piece on the board. Looking at the information they have, and acting accordingly. Everyone has their own goals, and perspective. Just like your character, their perspective is limited. They may have more information. They may have less. What they know shapes their opinions and perspectives.

AND. THEY. REMEMBER.

The simple answer is to go back and ask how does your protagonist feel about the character. If they like them, and have had positive experiences in the past, they’re more likely to accept that character’s viewpoint. If that character has betrayed them in the past, or worked against them, then they’ll discount the value of their advice.

Past actions are incredibly important factors if you’re dealing with characters who’ve changed loyalties. It’s entirely plausible your protagonist would hold a grudge against a former foe, who’s switched sides and is working with them now. Conversely, if the protagonist has had a change of heart, then they’re more likely to face distrust and opposition among their new allies.

Okay, so, maybe someone does know that the sky is going to fall if you poke that toad. Maybe they didn’t make that information clear because, “NO! AREYOUOUTOFYOURGODDAMNMIND!? DONTDOTHAT; THEFUCKINGSKYWILLFALL!” Maybe they’ve cried wolf before. Maybe your protagonist thinks poking the toad is a key to immortality and Steve just wants that for himself.

You’re correct, personality does matter. It affects prejudices, and how we weight information. Some of this is subconscious, but it works. Consider which you find more credible, some Rasputin looking homeless dude raving about the end of the world, or a composed academic? Personality and presentations matter, particularly during first impressions. Even if the Rasputin looking fellow comes back, shaved, with the crazy toned down, they’ll still be weighed against their previous iteration, by characters who originally met them in that state.

Confirmation bias is another relevant factor. This is the drive to actively seek out information that supports your understanding of the world while actively discounting information that contradicts it. If your protagonist really wants to believe that toad will give them immortality, they may very well ignore the advice of people they respect, and normally agree with, when they’re told it’s really an amphibious button to initiate the end times.

The really important thing to walk away with is the idea that you don’t need to vilify other characters’ positions. If your character has a legitimate reason not to follow it, then that’s all you need. Trust your audience make their own decisions on who they should be listening to.

-Starke

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Q&A: Small Arms Monster Hunting

HI! I was wondering what modern light infantry firearms would you recommend for killing giant monsters around size and weight of elephants but with agility more akin to cats. I was thinking heavy round assault rifles and or grenade launchers.

Well, not, “light,” but I kinda suspect you mean, “small arms.” The first thing that comes to mind is a .50 anti-material rifle. That’s not just because I did an ask on the Barrett AM rifle a few days ago.

With something that nimble, you wouldn’t want to get within half a mile of it, if you didn’t need to. And, because of how sound works, at those ranges, it wouldn’t even hear the gunshot before the round connected. (Technically, it would never hear the actual gunshot, just the bullet breaking the speed barrier.) Depending on how the critters are put together, a high-explosive round might be the best payload, but I don’t know how well their accuracy holds up at long ranges.

Getting close enough to use a grenade launcher (usually around 100-200m) doesn’t sound like a good idea. At least not if they’re that fast and agile.

(For reference the M203 under-barrel grenade launcher is accurate up to around 150m, beyond that you can still put a round general vicinity of over there at up to 350m.)

By, “heavy round,” I assume you mean automatic rifles chambered in 7.62mm (and some other .30 rounds), at which point, that’s usually a battle rifle. I mean, it’s possible you might get the desired result from riddling the things with an H&K G3, but getting that close when you don’t need to be still sounds like a bad idea to me.

-Starke

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Q&A: Followup: Followup: What am I Doing Here Again?

I think you answered the wrong ask with the long rule of cool answer? The question was if flaming arrow or fire weapon were ever actually used?

That question was a followup to another question answered about a day earlier, which was a followup to yet another question about flaming weapons. It was essentially asking why flaming weapons get used in Hollywood so much if the ones shown aren’t historically accurate.

We get a lot of questions about setting weapons on fire, and my point was that the movies and media you consume aren’t about accuracy. You shouldn’t look to them for truth, not even most of the “historical” ones because their needs are different. Rather they’re a place to start your search into history, which is vast. Fire and explosions have both been part of historical military campaigns but not in the way Hollywood will show you. Not the way that gets propagated throughout various fandoms, and not the way we see it represented on screen.

When you’re imagining fire arrows, you’re not thinking of early grenade like explosives in fields mined with gunpowder or Genghis Khan demanding all the dog and birds from a city he intended to conquer and then setting them on fire before releasing them. They’re not imagining flaming oil poured down from the battlements or catapults lobbing whatever it was they set on fire into a town. When they’re asking about fire arrows, they’re asking about the fire arrows seen in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (as Robin Hood: Men in Tights succinctly put it, “every time they do one these movies, they burn down the village!”) Or the flaming sword from The Scorpion King.

Fire has its place in mass battles and riots when it comes to burning shit down.

A quick internet search will find you all kinds of traditional uses for fire as a military weapon, the problem is that they’re not the ones most of those who come into our askbox are looking for. They’re not looking for artillery, they’re looking for a way to make what they saw in a movie realistic because they’ve been told realism is paramount to writing good fiction.

When you’re looking at whatever media you’re consuming, you should pretty much always assume Rule of Cool unless otherwise stated.

I wrote the post because that is what needs to be said. As a writer, it is important to be honest with yourself when you sit down to write whatever you intend to write. If Rule of Cool is what you’re looking for (which is what the vast majority of people who write fight scenes want) then just take a breath and accept it. You’ll be happier, you’ll understand your needs better and know what to focus on. There’s been an obsession lately about “realism” in battle sequences that aren’t particularly realistic but somehow makes them more legitimate than ones that aren’t.